[News] Palestinian youth assert right of return with direct action

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 12 17:03:30 EDT 2013

  Palestinian youth assert right of return with direct action

Nadim Nashef <http://electronicintifada.net/people/nadim-nashef>

11 September 2013

During the summer of 2013 a new grassroots movement burst onto the scene 
and announced itself as a major development in the long struggle for the 
right of return <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/right-return> for 
Palestinian refugees <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/refugees>.

Activities occurring throughout the Galilee 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/galilee> region of present-day 
Israel have been held which reaffirm the connection of the younger 
generation of internally displaced Palestinians to their ancestral 
villages. Events and projects simultaneously take practical steps to 
realize this long-denied, fundamental right.

The right of return is one of the most evocative and central issues for 
Palestinians ever since the Nakba 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/nakba> (catastrophe) of 1948, which 
saw the destruction of more than 530 Arab villages and the displacement 
of approximately 800,000 Palestinians. The majority of them ended up as 
refugees in neighboring Arab states, or in those parts of Palestine 
which initially remained outside of Israeli control, namely the West 
Bank <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/west-bank> and Gaza Strip 

Between 30,000 and 40,000 managed to remain inside the new state of 
Israel, however, finding refuge in nearby towns which had survived the 
ethnic cleansing <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ethnic-cleansing> 
of the majority of Palestine's villages.

    Brutal Israel

Attempts by the original inhabitants to return to their villages in the 
immediate aftermath of the Nakba were fought against by the new state, 
which used all the means at its disposal, often brutally.

Dispersed villagers attempting to return from outside the borders of the 
new state were often shot dead on sight by the Israeli army. Meanwhile, 
villagers attempting to return who had managed to remain within the 
borders of the new state were routinely rounded up and deported as 
"infiltrators." Legislation such as the Absentees Property Law enabled 
the confiscation of property of those Palestinians who had been made 
into internally displaced persons, while denying their rights to live 
there or even to enter the site of their ancestral lands.

Between 1948 and 1955, the majority of these villages were destroyed by 
the Israeli army and covered either with pine forests or new Jewish-only 
settlements. In many cases, a cemetery, mosque or church was the only 
remaining evidence of a village's existence.

The new wave of movements which have gained prominence this summer can 
be traced back partly to a group of third generation, internally 
displaced youth from the village of Iqrit 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/iqrit>, who in August 2012 decided 
that they would take matters into their own hands and return to their 
ancestral village.

Iqrit's residents were originally ordered out of their village for two 
weeks shortly after the Nakba for so-called security reasons. 
Exceptionally, three years later they obtained Israeli high court 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/israeli-high-court> approval to 
return, and received information that they would be able to return on 
Christmas Day, especially symbolic for the Christian community.

On that day in 1951, as the villagers waited to return, the Israeli army 
razed the village to the ground.

    Potent symbol

Now living in two small rooms built as extensions of the still-standing 
church, Iqrit's youth activists today sleep in the village in shifts in 
order to maintain a permanent presence there. This summer a small 
football stadium 
was also built, a potent symbol of the will and permanence of their return.

Iqrit's community has been organizing summer camps for its younger 
members annually since 1996; this year approximately 200 youth between 
the ages of 8 and 16 attended. The aim of the camp was to help the youth 
develop their identity by teaching them about their own history, and 
connecting this to the wider Palestinian history before 1948.

In addition to the summer camp and the newly permanent presence, 
villagers hold religious celebrations during Easter and Christmas in the 
local church. The village's cemetery is also still in use.

The youth-led, grassroots approach of Iqrit is very much indicative of 
the movement as a whole. Youth took the lead in 2013's "Summer of 
Return," ensuring that demands for the right of return find a renewed 
voice among the latest generation of the dispossessed.

One village which has adopted Iqrit's strategy of youth-based return is 
Kufr Birim <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/kufr-birim>. Located 
close to the boundary between Israel and Lebanon 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/lebanon> --- not far from Iqrit --- 
for the past few years Kufir Birim has played host to summer camps for 

This summer, people with family connections to Kufir Birim have also 
decided to maintain a permanent presence in the village, centered around 
the old community's surviving church. However, their initiative has not 
been without obstacles.

    Refusing to leave

In August, the Israel Lands Authority 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/israel-lands-authority> told the 
camp's members that they had to leave within a week or they would be 
removed by force ("Authorities threaten displaced community's return to 
+972 Magazine, 22 August 2013).

On 28 August, Iqrit also received a visit by inspectors from the Israel 
Lands Authority, accompanied by border policemen. They came during the 
morning and confiscated tents and beds, uprooted the small garden, 
removed signs and destroyed property, including the new football stadium.

However, as in Kufr Birim, the youth are not willing to leave their 
ancestral land.

This summer has also witnessed a very successful summer camp in the 
village of Ghabisiya, while Baladna 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/baladna> (the Assocation for Arab 
Youth) and a number of other groups initiated the Udna (Our Return) 
project with the participation of five ethnically cleansed villages: 
Saffuriyya, Miar, Maalul, Lajjun and Iqrit, with one youth group in each 

The project aims to educate the new generation with family connections 
to these villages of their history and rights, with film screenings and 
storytelling featuring residents who survived the expulsion. Practical 
approaches to the issue of return such as town planning and logistics 
were also explored, while musical events by local artists added a 
cultural feature.

Iqrit, Kufr Birim, Ghabisiya, Saffuriyya, Miar, Malul, Lajjun. These are 
just seven of the Palestinians towns and villages which were destroyed 
and whose inhabitants were displaced during the Nakba.

Yet the combined activities of these villages during the summer of 2013 
represent the most significant movement in the struggle for return since 
the years following the Nakba. Far from forgetting their roots and 
historical injustices, the latest generation of Palestinians inside 
Israel are showing their dedication to their right of return.

This, combined with the youth's energy, enthusiasm and innovative 
approaches, has resulted in a grassroots, youth-led movement 
unprecedented in the history of activism for the right to return. 
Whatever the immediate reaction of Israeli authorities to the return of 
villagers in Iqrit and Kufr Birim, these movements have captured the 
imagination of people across historic Palestine, young and old.

And while the future of the movement is full of uncertainty, the 
determination and energy of our youth alone is reason for optimism.

/Nadim Nashef is is the director of the Haifa-based Association for Arab 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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